Is there room for Sedition in 21st Century India?

The original Indian penal code of 1860 had no mention of Sedition. With rise in resentment against the British colony among Indians in 1870, section 124A was passed to suppress the fight for freedom. Section 124A under IPC describes sedition as "Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine." Such ambiguous and uncertain definition was used by colonialists in their favour to file suit against Bal Gangadhar Tilak,and Mahatma Gandhi in 1922. “Section 124-A under, which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen,” said Gandhi, in response to the charges made on him.

The jeopardy not only lounges in its cruel punishments but also in its open-ended definition. The clause is a conundrum tentative to every lawyer’s different interpretations. The right to speak or to have opinions against the government is hampered on account of such laws. The dissolution of democratic rights and fear to raise voice hence gains impetus

Last year the JNU row had created a huge fuss and debate about sedition and free speech in the country. It started on February 9 2016, when a group of students from Democratic Students Association (DSU) in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi organised a protest against the capital punishment given to Afzal Guru. The BJP and its students union ABVP also claim that anti national slogans were raised by the members of DSU. Few days after the incident two students from the university, Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid were arrested on the charges of sedition. Immediately after their arrest protest rose against the government in power for suppressing the right to speech and curbing dissent. Even after one year the charges of sedition are yet not formally filed due to lack of evidence.

Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid

The fact of the matter remains that such laws were formulated by British government to regulate the uprising against the rising colonial power. The government during the pre independence India restricted free speech and dissent because they did not want to lose control over India. Section 124 was aimed at binding the people under this law and restraining their right to free speech and dissent. However, today India is a democratic country and dissent is an important aspect of democracy. Regulating the basic right of its citizen and binding them under this colonial law is against the basic attribute of democracy. India being a diverse country will certainly have differences of opinion and a different outlook on every subject. Some may approve of AFSPA while others may negate it. The southern part of the country may not adhere to the general definition of nationalism given by the current power at the centre. The eastern part of the country may not be able to relate with the rest of the nation. A well accomplished democracy would try to keep in mind the likes and dislikes of the entire country.

The protest in JNU emerged against the capital punishment and AFSPA in Kashmir. The government should have tried resolving the matter instead of slapping sedition charge on the protesters. Democracy calls for respecting the demands of each and every section of the society.

One year after the JNU incident almost similar protest happened in Ramjas College in Delhi University. On 21 and 22 February, Ramjas college organised a seminar exploring representation of dissent called Culture of protest. Umar Khalid was to speak in the seminar. However due to ABVPs intervention his addressing was cancelled. Again the same restriction on free speech was seen in the College of Delhi University. The student’s association ABVP seems to embolden after the BJP led NDA government came to power. This student’s union has been trying to put restriction on free speech and dissent. This would prove ultimate threat on the democracy of our country. Universities and Colleges are places where young minds bloom and develop new ideas. Restricting them under the Sedition law will mark a huge loss for the country. Curbing the basic rights among the people will breed feeling of animosity among the people.

This was not the first time when sedition charges had been put onto the citizens. Before this writer-activist Arundhati Roy was slapped with sedition after she claimed that Kashmir was not an integral part of India. In 2014 Kashmiri students were charged with sedition after they supported Pakistan in a cricket match between India and Pakistan. Aseem Trivedi was arrested on the charges of sedition in 2011 because the government found his sketches to be derogatory. He reportedly depicted the Parliament as a commode and showed the National Emblem with wolves instead of lions. Such instances prove that under this law a citizen is not even allowed to express his/her opinion or anger against the government. In a democratic country the government at the centre is appointed by the people and therefore is answerable to them.

Sedition which is defined as an incitement to violence has no validity in the 21st century. The Supreme Court needs to declare the law as unconstitutional.

Our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru realised that sedition was fundamentally unconstitutional. He said’ now so far as I am concerned (section 124 A) is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place both for practical and historical reasons. The sooner we get rid of it the better.”

Created By
puniti pandey



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